Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Call me madam*

*Name of a chop bar in Osino, along the Accra-Kumasi road.

I've been getting no small amount of attention in Ghana on account of my earrings. I've had my ears pierced for quite a few years, and wear a pair of small steel studs these days.

One of the first people to remark on them was a mobile credit seller.
"Are you a boy or a girl?" he asked me. He was convinced the bible had a verse telling how earrings were for women, not men, to wear, and that mine must be causing me great pain.

He asked me why I wore them and I said, "Well, I like them."

"But it is for a woman," He continued," If I gave you a dress, would you wear it?"

He was just diving into the part of the conversation when he asked me how I could not believe in God and why I didn't go to church when young woman wearing a uniform (of a bank, supermarket, or filling station) came into the conversation and lectured his head off, that there was more than one religion in the world, and that I didn't have to go to church with him if I didn't want to.

"Goodbye, Michael," she said as she got up and left. She'd been listening the whole time.

A few days later, on a tro (sort of a minivan-bus-taxi), a woman selling eggs with hot pepper walked up to the window and smiled at me.

"You have these," she said, pointing to her earrings.

"Yes I do," I replied, grinning.

"Do you also have these?" she said, gesturing to her breasts.

I wanted to tell her I wished I did, but hesitated moments too long.


I'm enjoying all this attention I'm getting, which is a little out of the ordinary for me. I take secret delight in bucking the status quo (in such small ways) in a place like this, dominated by stubborn, hard-headed, (often aggressive, often very muscular) men.

Interesting fact: it is indeed true that only women wear earrings. Girls and boys alike are required to have hair cut close by lower grades of schools, which means that they are nigh indistinguishable before puberty. This means that most Ghanaian kids are going to school (yay!) and that earrings become a very apparent distinguishing feature between boys and girls, which seems to make an idea persist and carry on to define men and women.


Little did I know that a year later, I would wear a dress to my graduation ceremony and royally piss my family off.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Eyeh small

Koforidua is a city with a small, dense bustling centre, and large lush green suburbs spread out at the foot of some hills in Ghana's Eastern region. The surface of this country is like the palm of the hand, with small, even (but steep) undulations.

I woke up in Koforidua this morning to roosters crowing and Muslim prayers from nearby mosques. After a quick breakfast of bananas, peanut butter and brown bread, we jumped on bicycles while the day was still cool and set out for Suhum, 25km away. Creeping upslope in low gear and then speeding down, we wound our way on a wide road through the Ghanaian countryside: hills covered with small trees and tall grasses, fields bursting with bananas and maize. It was green and so gorgeous.

At Suhum, we chopped (ate) koko and kosi: thick homogeneous porridge made from millet flour spiced with ginger and nutmeg, and (which goes together with) fried bean cakes. Holy fried bean cakes it was good.

Back in Koforidua, after a quick shower, we chopped a quick banku (fermented maize meal) with beans, okro (okra), palmnut and groundnut soup, and spent the day at Ability Bikes. It is perhaps the first worker owned cooperative bike store and workshop in Ghana, and is run by six disabled people. How culturally cutting edge is that? Most of them have had polio. One of them is a strong rider, who came out to Suhum with us, and all of them are on the Koforidua wheelchair basketball team, which recently defeated teams from Accra and Kumasi, the two largest cities in Ghana.

David, an ex peacecorps volunteer is the Bikes Not Bombs man in the country, mentoring Ability Bikes in mechanics and co-op management. Read about their story here! This is where, after leaving the IPA project unanticipatedly early, I will spend a week before moving on to Kumasi.

As we sweated over the wheels we build and bikes we overhaul, the sky grew dark. "Let's move the table in," David said as rolled in over the hills, "There will be a strong wind."

Sure enough, minutes later, a fierce wind whipped across the front of the workshop, ahead of a thick grey curtain that obscured everything behind it. We sprinted to the roof of the three-storey building, uniformly punctuated by rusted steel rebars poking up, ready to build the next floor.

I was speechless as I climbed the last flight of stairs and beheld the awesome panorama that rose up over me as I stood level with Koforidua's rooftops. Below the wide open sky, we watched the city scatter and scramble as the nearby hills were almost completely hidden by the storm pulling in. It was so beautiful that if the lightening had struck me down right there I would have went happily.

(where did that photo go!??)

In a matter of seconds, the storm was on top of us, and we were soaked.